“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” – Plato
When in Manila, summer is also a time to give something back, to join causes and participate in activities that can make a difference in people’s lives. Wondering how to start? Ask around or search online for activities near you. There are numerous organizations needing volunteers. Funding is always scarce in non-profit organizations so volunteers are truly welcome.
This summer, I joined the Learning Festival of Altogether in Dignity (ATD), an international non-government organization that works with disadvantaged communities to find solutions to eradicate poverty. The office is in Pandacan, Manila. ATD organizes street libraries, livelihood workshops, and art activities.
“So glad to see more and more mothers joining, staying with their children, reading for them, watching them coloring without taking over from them:-)”—Guy… Most of the facilitators were once street children themselves. Because of ATD, they have grown up to have such a love of learning that they are now actively involved in community work. Awesome, don’t you think?
What I really like about ATD is that it does not encourage dole-outs, providing instead opportunities for learning that will help families empower themselves.
Summer is an important time of the year for ATD for this is when it holds the Festival of Learning, five days of fun-filled learning for the children in underprivileged communities in Metro Manila. Together with volunteers, ATD sets up camp in an open area, lays down woven mats, and places children’s books on them. Like bees attracted to honey, children from one year old to 13 years old soon buzz in, eagerly sitting down on the mats to marvel over the books.
This little girl couldn’t get enough of books and kept getting new books for me to read. But I think she also liked to look at my glasses. 😛
ATD has to make do with any open area it can take advantage of. In Pandacan, for instance, the Learning Festival was held beside Quirino Highway. As the sun rose, the direct sunlight would edge nearer the group until we were all huddled near the wall, trying to avoid the sun. Maybe, next year ATD can afford to buy tent-like shades, but for now, ATD just had to make sure the activities are done by the time the sun is directly overhead.
Chosen communities are Lozada-Hilum in Pandacan, Ilalim ng Tulay (Under the Bridge) in Paco, and Manila North Cemetery in Sta. Cruz.
A game that tested the children’s physical coordination and ability to follow instructions. They passed with flying colors and had such fun in the process.
As one of the volunteer-facilitators I assisted the children with the various activities. I read to them, or helped them read aloud from the books. In the arts and crafts activities, I coached the older kids complete their project. Activities were organized according to age. Guy Malfait, the head facilitator, guided me towards 12-year old Ampel and his younger sister Abby. At their age, they still couldn’t read properly and are now embarrassed to go to school because the other kids tease them. Ampel is still in Grade 1 and I’m not sure if Abby had even managed to reach grade school.
Said Guy, “sometimes, all these kids need is attention to encourage them to want to learn.”
These girls really enjoyed their face paint!
The series of activities normally just lasts two hours and a half. It begins with a washing of hands, a ritual which helps reminds the children about the importance of cleanliness, followed by about 20-minutes of book reading, then singing. Storytelling is a highlight, led by a volunteer. Activities culminate with an arts-and- crafts group activity. On the fifth day, completed artworks will be returned to the children who will receive certificates of attendance from ATD.
ATD’s team leader Anne-Sylvie Laurent shared that ATD’s involvement doesn’t end with the Festival of Learning. It is important that ATD is aware of the communities’ struggles. The organization invests time and energy on the communities and ATD wants to make sure the work continues even if the communities will relocate, like what is soon to happen to Ilalim ng Tulay Community in Paco. The community will be demolished sometime this year, Ann discloses.
She is helping scout around for relocation sites with good livelihood opportunities. If anyone reading this can help, please contact ATD.
Le Van Bich is a student from Vietnam. She spent her weekend with the children of Hilum-Lozada. She said, “the children marvelled over my fair skin. I told them, your eyes are brighter. I envy you.”
This child had a wound under his chin that had to be treated. But look at him, how engrossed he was coloring his book. The Festival of Learning seeks to create a lasting love for learning in children such as the one in this picture.
My own experience was memorable. Never have I met children so excited over books and art. I know that it will take more than a few days to change their life but I can hope that we were able to plant the seeds that will get them to change their own lives, starting with going to school.
When in Manila this summer, there is still time to participate in the Festival of Learning. ATD will be at North Cemetery from Thursday this week to Monday next week. Meet-up will be at 1pm at the ATD Office in Pandacan. ATD have hired a jeepney to bring the facilitators to the community. Contact Guy at +63947 4237238 if you wish to volunteer. The group needs facilitators, storytellers, and arts & crafts teachers.
See you there!
How to contact ATD
Address: 1225 Labores Street, Pandacan, Manila
Tel: +632 563 9312
Mobile: +63947 4237238
The Ilalim ng Tulay community in Paco faces a big challenge this year. Relocation. The Festival of Learning is one of the few spots of paradise that these children have in their hard lives.
The Brotherhood of United Filipino Magicians volunteered their magic to entertain the children. See them at the North Cemetery community this weekend!
Join us in an unforgettable summer!
Photos are from ATD’s Facebook Page.
It’s More Fun to Volunteer this Summer!